‘Lifelong friendships’: Rescuer reflects on 40+ years in SES
It was in the 70s when Doug Savage first heard about a new volunteer organisation helping people recover from floods that had devastated Brisbane.
As a farm boy from the Bundaberg region, helping other people out was a part of his nature and so at the age of 23 he put his hand up and joined the Queensland State Emergency Service.
More than 40 years on, Mr Savage is now the controller for the Gladstone region, in charge of 100 volunteers across eight groups.
"I got involved in searches and tarping roofs and fixing houses in storms," Mr Savage said.
"Over time I got more interested in training and I got my skill levels up and became a trainer."
His pathway led him to be operations manager then deputy controller.
Training at the time was on road accident rescues and flood boat operations, with both the SES and the fire brigades.
From deployments all around the state, to finding missing elderly people, there have been several moments that have stuck with Mr Savage.
However one of the most memorable moments was a three-day search for a missing woman around Colosseum.
"There was some blood spots outside the room," Mr Savage said.
"We had a massive search looking for this lady, we searched from Gladstone to Bundaberg just about and everywhere you can go within an hour's drive.
"We turned over every septic tank and looked in every waterhole and nothing."
Mr Savage said for three days about 200 people from across the area were involved in the search.
"We found all sorts of wonderful things, all the safes that had been stolen and chucked in the bush," he said.
"But we didn't find the lady.
"We just about wrapped it up and were ready to go home and the police get a phone call.
"They said 'are you looking for me?' and it was the lady."
He said the missing woman had hitched a ride with a truck up to Cairns, had gone back through and seen the search and thought "I wonder what all those people are looking on the side of the roads for?''
"That was the funniest one you've ever seen," he said.
Not just search and rescue
Although the orange army is often associated with rescues from heights, searches and recoveries, a lot more goes on behind the scenes.
"Most of our work is a lot of stuff like assisting ambos, helping other agencies, helping the police, doing traffic control on accident sites, doing storm damage," Mr Savage said.
"It's varied, one year we might do three searches on Mount Larcom and half a dozen rescues off the hill.
"The next year you mightn't do one, but you might do 20 traffic control jobs."
Logistics on the ground play a massive role in recovery and for the people who've spent a day out in the cold wet conducting recovery, the most important person to them is whoever has a hot drink ready on their return.
"When we have an evacuation, which we had in 2018, we had to put them somewhere," Mr Savage said.
"We had to feed them, look after them.
"That's the second side of it that no-one really sees."
Mr Savage said although he got a buzz from finding the person you were searching for, or helping someone get back into their home, it was the lifelong friendships that were his favourite part of being an SES member.
"They're all like-minded people, you'll find they're the same people who are in VMR, they're the same people in the Lions Club," he said.
"They're all there to help their community and it's a very supportive environment.
"You make lifelong friendships."
Even in the tough moments when things don't go to plan, peer support has become essential to the organisation.
"Even in the fires, people were quite distressed about certain aspects of the 2018 fires," Mr Savage said.
"They didn't get killed or anything like that, but the loss of property, that hurts your people.
"You have to support them through those periods and that seems to work very well."
Like most things in Gladstone, the numbers in the SES fluctuate depending on what projects are in town.
Mr Savage said he would love to see more members sign up, especially young, fit people with permanency in the area.
He said the best way to sign up was to show up to your local SES and speak to the manager.
Gladstone has SES groups at Mt Larcom, Calliope, Gladstone, Boyne Tannum, Miriam Vale, Rosedale, Agnes Water and Baffle Creek.